Sunday, 16 March 2014

Mavora Flora & Fauna

I found the plant life around Mavora especially fascinating, in particular the low profile alpine plants that grew on the tussock grassland plateau. I would suspect that most people would just see a scrubby dry expanse of green & bronze with tuffs of tussock here & there. But stop & explore down low and there's a myriad of tiny little ground cover plants with equally tiny flowers & berries. There is also plenty of dried rabbit poo and half dug holes everywhere but there must have been a major pest eradication programme happening because in all our time there I only saw two rabbits; one we startled when we stepped off the swingbridge & the other I saw way up the back of the campsite running about like a mad thing on the thick covered moss in the forest.
Unlike the drive through Nokomai Station & along the Nevis there were only a handful of Spear Grass at Mavora, this one in flower with some nasty looking spines protecting it.
This is our native bidi bidi, there were a number of small patches at the edge of the gravel tracks. The red was very bright in amongst the greens & browns of the grass. The little hooks on the end of the red spikes latched onto your socks without warning and then when you went to remove the flower ball it fell apart in your hand dispersing individual seeds with their own hooks on to everything within reach. A typical bidi bidi.

A montage of tiny alpine ground cover, the ones above look like mini pine trees. The tiny yellow spikes were a few millimetres high, they were obviously flower spikes of some sort. The more mature ones let loose a cloud of brown dust when you touched them. The single tiny red spikes in the fourth photo were flower spikes of some sort too.

More bidi bidi flowers followed by tiny berries on a bush, fungi & a ground cover orange berry in the fourth photo; no wonder our birds are so small, these berries are pill sized. The fungi wasn't as colourful as what we saw in the Catlins but there was still many varieties along with many different shades of green moss & lichen.

I happened to be walking along the access road one afternoon when I got the fright of my life as a bird lifted off the fence right beside me and took off up the valley. As it flew I quickly registered that it was, of all things another NZ falcon -Karearea.  How exciting. I didn't have my camera ready but managed to grab a couple of shots as it disappeared. We saw or heard the falcon just about every day while we were at Mavora. At 7am most mornings it would circle high above us calling with it's distinctive call as it went. We saw it land high on the slope at the north end of the lake when we were out in the boat one day, we thought it may have a nest close by but we lost sight of it by the time we got close.

Another day we watched as it chased & had a aerial battle with a harrier hawk that had intruded into it's territory. David also saw it flying with & swooping around a black backed gull along the lake edge. It didn't seem to be battling with it, just cruising & checking the gull out. These photos aren't in focus but if you look closely at the one on the right that I've blown up, you'll see that he's turned his head & is looking at me.

Just on dusk one day David also spotted it land on a ridge not far from our campsite. He came racing back to get me & it was still there when we returned in the ute but it lifted before we could get close. Unfortunately I didn't manage to get any close up shots of him but it was a thrill just to know that he was out there (no pun intended) around us everyday.

If you have been following my blog you'll remember that while in the Catlins, try as I might, I just could not get a good photo of our fast moving smallest native bird, the Rifleman- Titipounamu. At Mavora there were lots of Rifleman, well lots compared with elsewhere where we've seen them. But they were still proving to be elusive, I could hear their tiny high pitched peep as we moved through the bush but unless you caught sight of a movement you had no idea from where the noise was coming.

We were out on the boat one day, another calm day with the lake a millpond when we both spotted some movement in the water quite a way off to the side as we passed. At first it looked like a thistle "fairy" seed head and then like a fish was nipping it from down below making it move. Just a slight movement but enough for us to turn the boat around and take a closer look. As we approached we both realised at the same time that it was a tiny waterlogged bird floating on the surface; a Rifleman no less!  I quickly scooped it up in the net, it was just alive but died in my hand moments later. I massaged it's tiny breast and cupped it in my warm hands then wrapped it in the towel for awhile, willing it to take a breath, but sadly it was gone. So finally I had my close up photo of a Rifleman but definitely not the one I wanted. When we stopped later, I buried it on a stony beach, wrapped in some soft leaves with a tiny stone cross & some wild flowers on top.

Around camp & at regular intervals on any bush walk we did we'd hear the loud & familiar call of the Bush Robin- Toutouwai, and on many occasions they'd step out onto the path looking for stray insects that we disturbed along the way. These are the South Island Bush Robin (of course), they are virtually the same as the North Island Robin except that they have yellow tinged breast feathers. Robins are quite large & very cute, I'm going to sign off my Mavora posts with one on a very special little bird I made friends with but you'll have to wait a couple of days for that.

Once again David found the fishing hard going, this was the only one he managed to land & of course it went straight back in. Just before this though he had a monster on line....true, I saw it jump. Jump right off the hook & swim away!

And finally just before we left Mavora, I managed to get some reasonable Rifleman shots although I'm still not 100% happy with them. Rifleman are busy little blighters, they were moving in and out of the bush and sunny spots and I couldn't keep up with my camera setting changes. This was a family of rifleman (or should that be riflemen); male, female & two fledglings. I had gone out into the bush specifically targeting rifleman & trying hard not to get distracted by the nosey robins but although I heard and saw quite a few they were all too far away or in too dark a bush to get clear shots.
Female Rifleman
I was heading home through some trees where there is a camp area when I heard their familiar high pitched contact peep and there they all were racing up & down the trunks, along the grass, under the branches & of all things, climbing over & under a vehicle parked beside the wood BBQ. One disappeared up the exhaust pipe, another hung off a bit of string that was tied to the bumper. They ran up and down the grille and in and out of the headlights & mag wheels & all over the number plate picking off all the dead insects. 
Male Rifleman

Juvenile Rifleman

And after the vehicle they moved onto the BBQ, picking their way through the embers and running up the metal grille behind. Some seriously adapted habits there! But at least I got some shots to replace the ones of my dead little buddy.



  1. Very very interesting post, thanks. I had no idea Rifleman were so enterprising. I've not seen one for certain, so its good to see them slowed down on this blog. I love your mosaics of plants, fungi and lichens, very pretty.

    1. Thanks Olwen, I always enjoy your comments (no pressure) but sometimes I feel like I'm talking to myself! :)
      The Rifleman were so cute and now after seeing so many I'm getting to know there habits & sounds so I can find them a lot easier, just got to get their photos under control.
      Yes, next on my to buy list is an Alpine Plant Identification Book, there are so many and they are so tiny & beautiful.
      Thanks again.


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